By Ed Kimberley
Ryan O’Marra might catch the name of some Canadian fans. The 27 year old center who was born in Tokyo, Japan was drafted 15th overall by the New York Islanders in the 2005 NHL entry draft. Electing to stay with the OHL’s Erie Otters, O’Marra exploded for 77 points in 61 games. He also racked up 134 penalty minutes. The team you might remember from however, is the Edmonton Oilers. After becoming well versed with the AHL, Edmonton came calling and O’Marra picked up more then a handful of games for the big club.
Here, March Hockey UK correspondent, Ed Kimberley caught up with O’Marra for a little chit chat on his recent signing with the EIHL’s Coventry Blaze.
Ed Kimberley: Firstly with a player of your pedigree, a former 1st success in European leagues, it looks like winning silverware follows you around. What would be the highlight(s) of your career so far and why?
Ryan O’Marra: The highlight of my career would be winning two World Junior, under-20, gold medals with Team Canada. As a young kid, I used to get up every Boxing Day and watch the first Canada game with my Dad. It’s something many Canadians can attest to doing. The World Junior tournament is something all young players in Canada aspire to be a part of. I was fortunate enough to play with two incredible teams and players like Jonathon Toews, Kris Letang, and Carey Price.
EK – You’ve been described as a player with an excellent two way game that can win key face-offs, kill penalties and ice during difficult shifts. Coach Lefebvre has already highlighted you will be looked to for these roles, how difficult was it to transition to this style of play when turning pro?
RO – It was an adjustment for sure. It is difficult to change roles leaving junior hockey in the OHL to pro hockey in the NHL/AHL. I was always an offensive player in the OHL and adjusting to the new speed of the professional level and attention to detail required was challenging. It took me two years to adjust to the role and earn the ice time necessary to be successful as a defensive centreman and penalty killer. Once that happened I experienced some success at the AHL level and earned some NHL time, especially in my fourth year.
EK – You’re not the first former NHL player to have signed for the Blaze this year, with former Columbus Blue Jacket and Phoenix Coyote Steven Goertzen also joining the club, who also is known for his two way game and work ethic. Your styles seem to match each others, so what type of players would you expect on your line to compliment your style?
RO – I have played with probably every type of player and a vast array of skill levels. I try to make the players around me better, no matter what skill-set they bring to the table.
EK – You spoke to former Championship winning Blaze Defenceman and fan favourite, also a former junior teammate of yours Brian Lee prior to signing. You touched on this in a previous press release, but what exactly did he tell you about the club, city and fan-base?
RO – Brian was my assistant captain my rookie year in the OHL, and then I served as an assistant captain when he took over the ‘C’ my second year. We also played together in my rookie year of pro hockey in the ECHL, during my brief stint with the Stockton Thunder. He is the kind of guy who exudes leadership and is someone who everyone likes being around. His on-ice work ethic was incredible. So it was natural to ask him about his time with Coventry. He raved about the fan base, city, and organization. He told me in no uncertain terms that I would not regret signing with the Blaze. His opinion is certainly one I value.
EK – With rosters throughout the league starting to take shape who do you see as being the main challengers so far? The proof will undoubtedly be in the pudding, but the Blaze last season were accused of being inconsistent, with the return of coach Lefebvre and a new look roster, to what extent do you think these accusations have been addressed?
RO – The past is in the past, I can’t speak to what went on last season. Its a new-look team and I am excited for the new season. As far as challengers, I have no idea. I think its more important that we come together early as a team and take each game as it comes. It’s better to focus internally rather than externally.
EK – While in the World Junior Championships you took part in some fierce rival games with neighbour nation the USA, the Blaze have a few hot rivalries throughout the league particularly the Nottingham Panthers, what have you heard about this rivalry, do you approach these games differently and do you look forward to them?
RO – I played with David Ling last season in Italy. He gave me some insight into the rivalry. I have always enjoyed playing in games with a lot of emotion. So I am looking forward to our first meeting.
EK – With the contract signed and next season set, what do you do to prepare for the new season?
RO – I just do what I always have, train and skate throughout the summer.
EK – Do you have any final words for Blaze fans before you see them in September?
RO – I am looking forward to seeing, in person, the passion and support I have heard so much about from the Blaze fans.